As I was planning our trip to California, and the San Francisco Bay area, everyone I talked to about visiting Sonoma Valley only talked about touring the wineries.
Touring a winery to see the process of wine making sounded fun, but as it turns out, to tour a winery in Sonoma Valley is pricey, lowest price we heard of was around $70 a person, (and that was a cheap one!). Reason is, a big part of the tour is all about sampling several wines from the winery, thus the cost.
The thing is, neither my husband or I consume wine…
so then I started to think maybe it was kind of silly for us to even visit that area of California.
Is there anything to do in Sonoma Valley if we don’t drink wine?
In a word…
There is plenty to see and do and consume besides wine!
Here’s what we did while we were in the area for a few days, and that was hardly even scraping the surface!
Even though we didn’t want to pay for a tour of wine sampling and not really use it to the fullest, we were interested in the process of wine making.
Fortunately, we totally happened upon the vintage winery Sebastiani’s.
For a price you could partake of their wine samples, but it was nice to have the option to still see something of the wine process without that part. It wasn’t much of a tour, but they let the public walk through the lovely old building with a wonderful collection of vintage wooden wine barrels.
Their current winery where they now produce the wine is right next door and they do not allow the public to go in there… wine drinkers or not.
The gal working at Sebastiani’s said they have one of the, (or even the) largest collections of vintage wooden wine barrels. They also have carvings from a renown wood carver, like this beautifully carved Vintner’s Calendar:
Another lovely feature of the large vintage winery…
was this incredible mural of Sonoma Valley, (I think) painted on the fireplace wall. Wouldn’t this be a beautiful venue for a reception?
Sonoma Valley is in Sonoma County, with the Sonoma Mountains on the West. We only had time to see the southern part of the county, primarily the town of Sonoma. With all those ‘Sonomas’ people must get confused which you’re talking about… the county? the town? the valley?
Napa Valley and the town of Napa are on the other side of Sonoma, over the Mayacamas mountains on the east. (about 15 or 20 minutes to drive)
We had no idea what to expect visiting Sonoma, (the valley) I had done very little research for the area. I selected what appeared online to be a beautiful place for lodging and figured we could ‘wing’ the rest.
The day before, we had stayed in Sausalito and had an incredible experience in Muir Woods, making it to our next stay at Kenwood, in Sonoma Valley. HERE IS where we stayed in Kenwood. (affiliate link) It was an incredibly beautiful place! Let me know if you’d like more information on that Inn.
We had 2 nights and 1 full day to kick around Sonoma Valley before heading back to San Francisco. So I basically looked on a map and picked Sonoma, (the town) because of its close proximity to where we were staying. Less time driving, more time to get out and enjoy the great weather. We were fortunate to have wonderful weather, 60’s and sunny.
We drove into Sonoma, (the town… see what I mean?). It took us a bit to find what I would call the ‘fun part’ of town, you know, the old historical part of town, with all the fun shops, restaurants etc. I actually didn’t know if it existed, but was ever hopeful.
My husband and I have been married for 4 decades… You’d think by now we’d be a well-oiled machine. Recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, just hearing what the other meant before they barely even spoke, right? and oh so patient and kind with each other… especially on vacation…
Yah… not quite!
There we were driving into town, I just didn’t want to get my reading glasses out of my purse yet again, so no map or gps on my phone. We could be ‘organic’ about this. I just felt sure there was going to be an old part to town, and somehow we were going to happen upon it.
My husband wasn’t feeling that same way. As we drove by boring stores, gas stations and the like, he kept saying things like, “I don’t think you want me to stop here.”, “what is it you’re looking for?”, “where should I stop?”, “what is it again that you want to do?”
to which I ‘d reply something like, “just walk around, enjoy the shops and stuff.”, “No, not here… just keep going a little further.”
Each block we didn’t find the ‘old part’ I was holding out for, we seemed to repeat the same words, only a little louder and a little sharper. Fortunately before we hit the crescendo, I spied the town center… whew!
It does exist! The center of town has this huge beautiful plaza square:
The Sonoma Plaza, (the largest in California) is a great place to use the public restrooms in the city hall building, which is a lovely stone building:
Surrounding that central 8 acre square plaza are several of great shops and restaurants.
We moseyed down the sidewalk and ended up in the residential area.
I always love getting inspiration for home and garden design by walking through lovely historical residential areas.
This area was splendid!
I noticed so many different styles of fences. The one above reminded me of bird houses the way the tops of the posts were capped.
There were many varieties of stone and wood fences:
Throughout our walk in the residential area, in several spots crossed over a meandering creek… it was just lovely, with all those little bridges.
The evidence was clear this creek can get a lot of water at times. We saw the high water mark several feet higher than the level of the water that day.
There are several styles of bungalows in Sonoma:
And I kept seeing those fern type plants like in the planters flanking the steps of that bungalow. I have never noticed that variety of plant in Wisconsin, so I’m guessing they must be a perennial for a warmer climate than Wisconsin… and not grown as an annual? (They reminded me of an asparagus fern, but were fuller and the fronds didn’t droop) If you know what they are, fill me in! I’d love to see if I could get some here in the Midwest… very pretty.
January is in the slow season for tourists in Sonoma, it can be chilly and rainy. We frequently heard from folks how fortunate we were with the weather as it had been super rainy the week prior. It was perfect during our visit!
I do wonder just how packed the town gets in the ‘on’ season…
I think nearly every house we walked by had front fences or privacy of some sort.
That made me wonder if sometimes the homeowners feel they need more privacy from tourists, or if that is just the ‘thing’ in Sonoma… fences. I happen to love fences, so was thrilled with all the defining displays!
The layers of different varieties of shrubs and old concrete wall was pretty, but very intentional for privacy.
This style of fence we saw at several places:
The fence itself is a pretty simple design. They framed wire fence panels, (we called them ‘hog panels’ on the farm) with cedar. I love this look, for a great functioning fence. This one had a gated pergola that added charm.
The gnarly branch fence was worth a quick snapshot too:
Leaving the residential area and heading back to town…
We happened upon a shop called Tiddle E Winks 5 and Dime…
She had the cutest display of vintage Tiddley Winks games, along with several other fun vintage and reproduction things. Very fun stop!
Getting closer to lunch time, we started asking locals where to eat. We got a few suggestions, but settled upon ‘the girl & the fig’. I remembered reading something about it earlier.
The ‘girl’ is Sondra Bernstein. She was a pioneer in the concept of farm to table restaurants. The girl & the fig… has been at the top of the best restaurant rankings, so I figured it’d be worth a stop.
It’s a pretty casual setting, you’d never know that many famous people have eaten here. This was inside the entry, the dining room is to the left.
So what was our dining experience???
It was pretty amazing!
I ordered the duck confit, and it was the best I’ve ever eaten. Since it was lunch, I only ordered 1 duck leg, but I quickly wished I had a 2nd one to eat… not because it wasn’t enough, but it was seriously so totally delicious! Yum!
Sonoma Valley is for sure full of wineries, vineyards and has some pretty great wine making history. ‘The Judgement of Paris’ is when in 1976 the blind taste test in France selected California wines to be the winners in every single category! It’s a fascinating story. Some of those wineries were from Sonoma Valley, some from Napa Valley. Needless to say, there is quite a strong emphasis on wine and vineyards in the area. Here is the link to read more on that judgement history!
Aren’t these half barrels used as window boxes just perfect for Sonoma?
We walked by them on our way to get ice cream at Sweet Scoops Homemade Ice Cream.
It too, was amazing! Homemade and really good quality ice cream.
Even just driving around Sonoma Valley is fascinating. There are miles and miles of vineyards.
I noticed that some grapevines were pruned and some were not. I’ve never grown grapes, and I’m not sure if they grown on new or old wood, so I’m not sure how to prune them for best production.
But I did learn how to prune a Pee Gee Hydrangea! A few years ago, when we had bought our last house, a 100 year old house, it came with a huge old Hydrangea tree. (here’s the post I wrote on how to prune it)
The drive in Sonoma Valley is gorgeous with the rolling hills of vineyards and mountains.
We were only in the southern part of the valley. I look forward to having more time in the future to explore into Santa Rosa and the other areas north in the valley.
So even if you don’t drink wine, I hope you see how there are still many choices of beautiful, fun and yummy things to see, do and eat in Sonoma Valley!
Thanks so much for stopping by! Please feel free to follow and share this blog with your friends, as well as on Facebook,Pinterest, Flipboard, Bloglovin, YouTube and now Instagram! I appreciate you reading along.